THE Via Verde de la Sierra is one of 20 so-called ‘green routes’ which chart a trail of disused railway lines across Andalucia.
Forming part of a proposed rail route across the Cadiz Sierra between Almargen and Jerez de la Frontera, it would have connected the cities of Malaga and Granada.
Although much of the groundwork, including tunnels, viaducts and railway stations were completed in the early 1930s, the project was never finished and lay in neglect until 1993 when the line was renovated for use as a walking and cycling route.
We started our day in the town of Olvera where we were staying in the charming Casa Andalus.
Like many of the other white towns in the vicinity, Olvera’s roots are Roman and the town went on to flourish during the Muslim occupation of Spain.
It has a Moorish Castle constructed on a rocky crag high above the town which, like parts of our own Moorish castle, was built during the 13th Century Nasrid Dynasty.
Another noteworthy building is the twin-towered neoclassical church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación, which was built on the site of a former mosque.
We followed the steep path from the town centre down to the Antigua Estacion Ferrocarril which marks the starting point of the Via Verde.
This hotel offers bicycle rentals and is the last opportunity to pick up refreshments before you reach the Estacion de Zaframagon, 15 km along the route.
The reasonably flat terrain makes the route perfect for cyclists and we opted to hire bikes, although plenty also chose to follow the route on foot.
We were immediately impressed with the scenery, a distinct patchwork of brown and green fields with endless olive tree groves looking like blobs of green paint on a watercolour just asking to be painted.
The route’s 30 tunnels are a feature of the journey and as we got closer to the Estacion de Zaframagon, the landscape began to transform from arable land into rolling hills of fir trees.
We were soon transported through mountains and river valleys with the help of immense viaducts and increasingly lengthy tunnels.
The viaduct at Zaframagon offered inspiring views of the Penon de Zaframagon, an impressive 584m-high limestone outcrop with sheer cliffs.
Overhead 200 breeding pairs of Griffon Vultures live and there is a centre dedicated to them at the nearby station, which includes a video feed showing live footage of the vultures on the opposing rock face.
Soon we had arrived at Estacion de Coripe, which has also been transformed into a hotel and excellent restaurant, perfect for a lunch stop. There is not much happening in the town itself which is about 2 km from the track however a small diversion from the Coripe Viaduct takes you to the Chaparro de la Vega.
This supposedly 700-year old holm oak of enormous dimensions is an Andalucian National Monument and plays its part in local traditions by providing a meeting point for the villagers of Coripe on their annual pilgrimage during the Fiesta del Virgen de Fatima, their patron saint.
Following Estacion de Coripe, the route continues to the final hotel at the Estacion de Puerto Serrano which adjoins the town of the same name.
However having already cycled 22 km we were acutely aware of the 200 metre height climb on the return route and set off on the arduous journey back to the start.
About two hours later and with tired legs and saddle sore beginning to rear its painful head, we arrived at the hotel at Olvera, dropped off our bikes happy to place our feet firmly back on terra firma.
Our walk back to town was slow but pleasant, not only for the sense of achievement for having completed our long cycle, but also the beautiful purple and pink Sierra sunset that accompanied us.
We were aware that our legs would soon be stiffening up, so grabbing a quick shower at Casa Andalus, we headed out for an early dinner at the lively Restaurante Lirios before retiring to what was always going to be an excellent night’s sleep.
Casa Andalus is a self-catering house, visit www.holidayhomeolvera.com or call 609 665 342. Bicycles can be rented at the Antigua Estación at the start of the Via Verde at approx €15 per day.